Using a constructive feedback approach to effectively reduce student plagiarism among first-year psychology students


  • Fiona White
  • Caleb Owens
  • Melanie Nguyen


Plagiarism challenges the efficacy of current teaching methods to encourage students’ independent learning and critical thinking. In addition, existing evidence within the School of Psychology at the University of Sydney suggests that a purely deterrent approach to reducing student plagiarism (i.e., detection software) is relatively ineffective. These findings and an emerging literature led the School to develop and implement a constructive feedback approach. In the first semester 2008 teaching staff provided first year psychology students with one of three extracts from a journal article. Over 1,300 participants were asked to read an extract and construct an appropriate paragraph in relation to a focused research question. Responses on this question focused writing module were submitted via WebCT upon which students subsequently received constructive feedback. Responses were analysed for serious breaches using plagiarism detection software and were also assessed according to writing style, referencing and (in)appropriate use of quotations. The best and worst paragraphs were then selected and posted on WebCT, fully annotated with comments. In addition to this module students were provided with examples of what constitutes plagiarism, a demonstration of the frequency of plagiarism, the ease of plagiarism detection and the penalties for plagiarism. A few weeks following this exercise, students submitted their essays for graded assessment. An analysis of these essays revealed a significant fall in the number of ‘severe’ plagiarism cases between 2007 and 2008. It is anticipated that this constructive feedback approach will have flow-on effects of enhancing student’s independent learning, improving student’s scientific writing and increasing academic honesty throughout the tertiary education community.